The general election turned out to be a proxy second referendum. Despite Labour’s (and indeed our) efforts to raise the social problems generated by capitalism and how to solve them, the result reflected the 2016 referendum. Leave-voting areas in the North, the Midlands and North Wales returned a majority of pro-Brexit, Tories – giving the Tory party a comfortable majority in the House of Commons – while Remain-voting London, Scotland and Northern Ireland returned a majority of pro-Remain MPs.
We even saw previously solid Labour seats, even in ex-mining areas, returning Tory MPs. In fact, the first result – and the first Tory gain – was in Blyth where the Northumberland NUM had its offices. It is true that, in quite a few of these seats, the Tories won because the Brexit Party took votes from Labour. The reason for this can’t be that those who switched really thought that Brexit would make any difference to their lives, but will more have been resentment that, having been asked a question and given an answer, that answer was being ignored.
What people vote for is of course routinely ignored, but this is due to the fact that the workings of the capitalist economy, which require that priority be given to profit-making, prevent the improvements in health care, education, transport and the rest that people vote for from being implemented. Brexit is different. It might not make sense from a capitalist point of view but it is something that could be delivered. However, it was being thwarted, with a view to not implementing it, by opposition MPs. Insofar as the Labour Party was seen as part of this they were punished for, in effect, not respecting a democratically-decided decision.
So, Brexit will now happen. The United Kingdom will formally leave the European Union on 31 Jamuary. That will satisfy most Leave-voters. Of course that will not be the end of the story – negotiations over trade and tariffs will go on for years – but, a democratic vote having been satisfied, the resentment of those who voted for this can be expected to die down, as in fact the particular trading arrangements British capitalism makes with the rest of the capitalist world is not their concern anyway.
Economic reality and capitalist interests might compel Johnson and his government to negotiate a ‘softer’ Brexit than their rhetoric has been suggesting but that’s unlikely to get people jumping up and down. Given the nationalist vote in Scotland and even in Northern Ireland (for the first time there have been more Nationalists than Unionists elected there), there could be big problems ahead for those in charge of the British state.
Those who voted for Brexit via the Tory party are going to be more interested in the Tory promises to end austerity and to improve health care and education. And that is no more likely to happen than it would have if the Labour Party had won. Capitalism is an economic system driven by the imperative to make and accumulate profits and it is this that has to come first, not improving the conditions of the wage-working majority.
Knowing this, we confidently predict that the Johnson government will fail to honour its promises here. Not because they necessarily don’t want to – though they are still the nasty party – but because they cannot. No government can.
January Socialist Standard editorial